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May 2007
Volume 10 / Number 5
Feature Articles
Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

Streamlining Service Creation

By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis, Feature Articles

Service Creation is another one of those overly broad terms that covers everything from provisioning to the ability under IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem] for somebody with a bright idea to create yet another possible “killer app” service.

Service creation and provisioning at telcos and cablecos always had a sort of ’garage shop’ ambiance. Now, however, some genuine, rigorous “standards and practices” are finally permeating the industry; these will enable a sort of “service factory” approach to assembling services and provisioning them quickly and inexpensively.

In particular, one should take note of the Product and Service Assembly (PSA) Catalyst Initiative, led by a consortium of companies such as Axiom Systems (news - alert) (http://www.axiomsystems. com). The PSA is a collaboration of vendors and service providers who are creating an IT reference architecture that 1) streamlines the next-gen network product/service lifecycle, 2) bridges the service creation gaps between OSS, BSS and service execution, and reduces the cost of service/product production.

Simon Osborne, Axiom Systems’ Senior Technical Architect, says, “Service creation means different things to different people. I guess the most confusion about service creation involves the execution plane - creation in the bundling and product offerings. The PSA initiative is one that Axiom and many other partners have been working towards within the umbrella of the TMF [TeleManagement Forum]. PSA is a reference architecture to support the rapid assembly of services. You could argue that it’s service creation in a bundling/order fulfillment-type metaphor. The PSA architecture is aligned to the TMF in terms of the way they model their architecture through the eTOM [Enhanced Telecommunications Operations Map] and interfaces associated with TAM [Telecommunications Applications Map, developed to provide a high-level decomposition of apps into functional groups, so that similar, reusable functions can be grouped together and reside in well-known service boundaries] and things like that.”

“We’re using that landscape as inspiration,” says Osborne. “To support the PSA initiative, there’s a PSA Catalyst project in two phases that showcases the ideas, deliverables and benefits of the PSA initiative for telecom operators and service providers as they move forward. The first phase was demonstrated at TeleManagement World Americas 2006 in Dallas, Texas, in December 2006 and the second phase of the PSA Catalyst was demonstrated at TeleManagement World in Nice, France, in May 2007.”

“These Catalyst events helps establish a set of vendors working within the PSA architecture,” says Osborne, “which is a reference architecture of the federation and cooperating catalogues within the architecture, all focused on ’How do I the service provider discover what my network can do? And how do I bundle and present that in a logical model and an aggregation model, ultimately propagating that into the order handling and CRM systems to allow customer orders to be fulfilled against them?’.”

“The deliverables from the first phase of the PSA Catalyst are an industrystandard API to allow the participating members within this federation of catalogs to promote their capabilities, all the way up the stack,” explains Osborne. “Equally, we now understand the rule dependencies, the rule sets, and the relationships between and among those building blocks so that validation can take place and service assembly can rapidly take place.”

Osborne goes on: “The second phase of the PSA initiative is that we’ve taken onboard some new vendors and we’ve got more service providers as well, and QinetiQ, one of the world’s leading defense technology and security companies, who are all providing valuable usecases around their infrastructure and their service play.”

Osborne admits that, “We’ve acknowledged that perhaps in the first phase there was a bias toward the service delivery or fulfillment aspects of this architecture. So, in recognition of that we’ve brought in Convergys as a partner to understand the emphasis that billing places on this same componentized architecture when subject to service component assembly and service modeling. At the product catalog layer, we’ve brought onboard TIBCO. Even Microsoft is now onboard.” “The whole value of the PSA architecture is to allow multiple vendors to be able to plug into it by using the common interface and API,” concludes Osborne.


Hitting “Bedrock”

JacobsRimmell (news - alert) ( is an operations support system (OSS) vendor that started when Founders David Jacobs (CTO) and Phil Rimell (chief architect) left Reuters’ IT department nearly ten years ago. Among other things, it’s now the principal service fulfillment provider for cable’s 800-pound gorilla, Comcast.

JacobsRimmell’s Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Alliances, Joe Frost, says, “We’re known for our OSS and provisioning abilities in the MSO space. Comcast is our biggest North American cable customer. We’re deeply involved in Comcast’s ’Bedrock’ platform. At the moment we do all of Comcast’s data, IP data and application provisioning technology for Comcast VoIP or ’digital voice’. We’ve just started to move the digital TV customers onto the Bedrock platform too.”

Bedrock is Comcast Corp. new multiservice operations framework, created in part to deal with the wider range of services made possible by IP. Indeed, Bedrock enables automated end-to-end service fulfillment and provisioning of all Comcast services - video, VoIP, data and eventually wireless. Tests indicate that in terms of the high-speed Internet service alone, for example, Comcast was able to reduce time-to-install by a third thanks to Bedrock, from 12 minutes to about eight.

A key partner in development of the Bedrock platform has been U.K.-based JacobsRimmell. As JacobsRimmell’s Joe Frost says, “For the last four consecutive quarters, Comcast has set records for the number of new subscribers they’ve been signing up. It’s something like 10,000 new voice users a day going through our platform. It’s quite a successful implementation.”

“Basically we see three primary markets,” says Frost. “First is the Cable business as usual. Second is the commercial services market which encompasses both cable and wireline telcos. The third market is the information management space. That really reflects the fact that most of the operators, specifically the incumbent tier-1 telcos, are trying to implement a lot of new matched or blended services - or whatever you want to call them - using our methodology, along with the expectation of new technologies. In that respect, most of them have recognized now, particularly while they are in lab trials, that the technology is capable of all sorts of cool things, but in order to be able to develop and then offer services that may be very timely or ’seasonal’, their whole operational infrastructure needs a significant upgrade.”

Frost elaborates: “The operators realize they must have far better control and visibility of their operational data; that’s the data that involves the subscriber’s identity. It’s not just the telephone number or bill payer’s street address any more; it’s the actual user that is entitled to access the service and in particular it’s the context in which the user sits - they can take their services over any network, any access technology, any device. After all, that’s the whole premise behind IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem]. One then maps the entitlement of those new products and services in real time, because many subscribers, particularly the younger ones and business types, tend to frequently move around the landscape. They change how they take their services frequently, and they use different types of devices to partake of those services. ”

“The second trend I mentioned, commercial/business services, is a field in which we made our first announcement recently,” says Frost. “What we saw there was an opportunity to develop an off-the-shelf provisioning or fulfillment platform. We at JacobsRimmell have observed a massive ’land grab’ going on right now among the Tier-2, 3 and 4 telcos and the big cable companies who see a huge opportunity in taking revenue away from the wireline incumbents and delivering managed voice services to small and medium businesses [SMBs]. It’s a market the incumbents are not as focused on as they perhaps should have been all along. But one of the biggest drawbacks is that, following business services, particularly business VoIP services, in this market, you see that operators’ rates are dropping incredibly quickly. It’s almost become a commodity offering. Because of this, the operational system must be far more efficient and there’s a much wider range of equipment needed, particularly customer premises equipment.”

“Today’s trend is that operators deploy SIP [Session Border Control]- based user equipment at the customer premises,” says Frost. “That ranges from the standard desktop handset through the small and medium office IP PBX, such as the Linksys Voice System 9000 SIP PBX that retails for less than $400. One of the big issues for the operators is that these devices don’t just pop out of the box and start working immediately. They need an IP address, they need their features configured, and so forth. So what we’ve seen from the operators and vendors alike is a need to be able to deploy more complex equipment across a far wider range of customer premise sites, and have everything work the first time. Operators can’t afford to send out engineers when you’re looking at a potential revenue of perhaps $30 a month for a phone service. The equipment and service must be configured configured and dispatched from the operators’ warehouse or a pre-configuration location.”

“That’s why we’ve put together an off-the-shelf provisioning package called QuickStart Business VoIP,” says Frost. “It’s a full-functioned, end-toend fulfillment or provisioning platform. It handles all of the office equipment, softswitch, VoIP switching infrastructure, the messaging infrastructure and so forth, and handles all of the order management. It also deals with all of the SIP-based customer premises equipment in one application so that the call agent or field technician needs just one screen from which to work. It handles the whole process from assigning a new customer, taking an order and assigning products to that customer, and then configuring the physical infrastructure or equipment that delivers the service. It’s a real rapid implementation off-the-shelf type of solution not normally found in this industry today. We’ve seen an opportunity here - customers simply haven’t been able to configure and adapt their equipment quickly enough with conventional techniques, because it’s been too complex to do using existing tools.”

All in all, it appears that the days of being able to pick up a phone and watch a field technician visit your premise and install equipment and services is coming to a close.

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


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